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Travel Digiscoping

Using digiscoping in the quest for adventure

In May 2013, James Lees, a birder from the UK, set off with two friends to shoot a movie in Iceland both using and about digiscoping. In the very north of the country, which is remote and sparsely inhabited, but where you can expect to see all the more bird species, James worked on producing a 15-minute documentary that he showed at the Rutland Bird Fair in August 2013. James describes here how this film was made.

  • © James Lees
  • © James Lees
  • © James Lees
  • © James Lees

James Lees is a very experienced birder and digiscoper from the UK. He works at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust nature conservation area in Slimbridge, south-west England, taking photo and birding tours, and organizing digiscoping events. He used an ATX 85 spotting scope with a TLS APO and DCB II adapter from SWAROVSKI OPTIK to shoot his movie.

I’ve been giving expert digiscoping talks for SWAROVSKI OPTIK at the Rutland Bird Fair for six years. I try to improve on what I do every year. On the one hand, I emphasize the technical quality of the products and, on the other, I focus on what people are interested in. Last year, instead of the traditional slideshow, we decided to shoot a short movie.



On the road with good friends

I needed support for this project. So, I asked two good friends whether they would help me out: Ed Waldron, an editor, and Joe Bilous, a digiscoping novice. We made the perfect team.

After searching for the ideal location for shooting an exciting movie about digiscoping, we decided on Iceland. It is one of the most impressive countries in Europe and is unique for its wildlife. Against this backdrop, we wanted to fully showcase the benefits offered by SWAROVSKI OPTIK products, such as their versatility and easy use when observing wildlife and taking photos, presented in a naturally and completely spontaneous manner, in the form of a tour.



At home on four wheels

We arrived in Iceland in the last week of May and took up residence in a mobile home for seven days. This was a good decision because, since our aim was to travel round Iceland, the mobile home allowed us to stop anywhere we wanted, at any time. Every night we tried to find an even better viewpoint, preferably in a secluded spot. The mobile home also did a good job as a “mobile cutting room”. After all, Ed had to cut more than nine hours of film material down to a 15-minute movie.



Beautiful animals, dismal weather

We were in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful regions that we had ever seen. Waking up at the foot of the largest glacier in Europe or being able to see a dozen Harlequin Ducks out the window during dinner provides you with unforgettable moments.

But we were certainly not blessed with good weather. It rained most days, or else it was gloomy and cloudy. In the north we also encountered snow, which produced drifts that were three times higher than our mobile home. But the upside of the gloomy weather was that it gave the film an added dramatic impact.



Really getting to know Iceland

The week that we spent there was too wonderful for words, despite the weather. We were definitely able to pack in more experiences than your average visitor to Iceland. Sometimes we went the whole day without meeting another soul. Even when we had to refuel, we didn’t see a single person as the gas stations were unmanned. Towns that were marked in large letters on the map turned out to be no more than clusters of a few houses. But the few people that we did encounter were all very friendly and extremely helpful.

This was precisely the Iceland that we were looking for: a country where all you hear at night is birds calling and the wind blowing. A place where night should be understood in relative terms, as we had daylight 24/7.

A genuine experience of nature

The wildlife never let us down once during this period. We saw so many fantastic sights but the most amazing aspect was how we saw things. Birds in Iceland are not afraid of people and this resulted in fabulous pictures. We got particular pleasure from seeing birds nesting, which otherwise only pass through the UK or take up residence there in winter. One of the loveliest moments was observing the courtship ritual between a pair of Purple Sandpipers in the brightly lit tundra, even though it was 1 o’clock in the morning. During this moment, I felt as if I was almost invisible because the Purple Sandpipers were not disturbed by my presence. It was as if I wasn’t there. The Pink-footed Goose and Whooper Swans that were nesting on the mountain tops also provided a spellbinding sight.



Experimenting with digiscoping

Iceland provides the perfect location for using the fantastic products from SWAROVSKI OPTIK. Joe and I had lots of fun with digiscoping. It was great to be able to spend time experimenting with the settings and equipment. It showed us that the easy use of SWAROVSKI OPTIK equipment is one of its biggest benefits. Joe, who has only been involved with digiscoping for a short time, managed to shoot even better photos and videos than me.



Simply beautiful memories

We hope that the movie shows how easy it is to produce fabulous wildlife shots if you have the right equipment. I often hear people say that digiscoping is difficult. But our short movie clearly shows that this isn’t the case. We really enjoyed our Iceland tour. It’s lovely now to watch the film produced from this, which will always awaken the loveliest memories for us.